Poultry Winter Waterers Without Electricity

by Meghan H

Published January 9, 2023

For those of us who live where winter means snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures that occur on a regular basis, we need to have a game plan for how to manage poultry waterers during the frigid, frozen weeks or months. We discussed options for winter waterers when you have electricity in or near your chicken coop, but what if that’s not an option? Here are a few tried and tested tips.

Salt Water Bottle in Pan - Meyer Hatchery

Saltwater Bottle Floating In An Open Water Pan

Every fall, this method is shared on popular social media platforms and accounts. It has varying degrees of success. The theory is that salt lowers the freezing point of water. We won’t get into the scientific variables with this method except that it depends on how low the outside temperature is and how concentrated the salt solution is inside the bottle. 

The setup: Take a 20-ounce empty water bottle, pour a salt solution into it, cap the bottle and let it float in your chickens’ water pan. I tested this method with a salt solution of ½ cup of salt in the 20-ounce bottle, then filled the bottle with tap water. So the salt solution was quite salty, but I didn’t calculate the exact concentration. During a week of 20-degree highs in January, I let the bottle float around in a black rubber 8-quart feed pan filled with plain drinking water. When I checked the water in the morning, the drinking water was frozen solid, but the salt water inside the bottle was still liquid. 

Takeaway: This method may work if you live where winters are mild, and the temperature may only occasionally dip a little below freezing. But this method isn’t reliable for keeping water from freezing if you have extreme winters.

Greenhouse chicken waterer - Meyer Hatchery

Mini Greenhouse For The Waterer

Setup: Take some old windows, panels of clear greenhouse polycarbonate, or similar clear material to form a small “greenhouse” for the waterer. This method relies on the solar gain on bright, sunny days to capture heat from the sun and store the heat in the thermal mass of a filled waterer to prevent the water from freezing. If the mini greenhouse blocks the prevailing wind from reaching the waterer, the effectiveness may be increased.

Takeaway: The mini greenhouse works well on sunny days during winter. Long stretches of cloudy weather may render it ineffective. It’s worth a try if your winters are not too extreme.

Winter Waterer Chicken Solution - Meyer Hatchery

Old Tire Filled With Foam Insulation

Setup: Take an old rubber tire (without the rim) and fill the cavity with expandable spray foam. While the foam is still curing, set a black rubber feed pan in the well of the tire and let the foam cure with the pan in place, so it forms to fit the bottom and sides of the pan. An insulated, black pan is slower to freeze in extremely low temperatures. A bonus is that this method prevents one more used tire from going into the landfill or recycling center.

Takeaway: This method can work better than the other two methods for northern climates. I like using black rubber pans because they are flexible even if the water inside freezes solid. The pan can be dumped over and the block of ice kicked out and the pan refilled. Combining the insulated pan with the mini greenhouse technique can be even more effective.

Rubber Balls Floating in Waterer Pan Chicken Winter Waterer - Meyer Hatchery

Floating Ping Pong Or Rubber Balls

Setup: Float 3 or 4 ping pong balls or rubber dog toy balls on the surface of a pan of water. As the breeze moves the ping pong balls, the water’s surface is agitated, which will delay the freezing of the water.

Takeaway: This is another method that will likely only work where winters are quite mild and temperatures only occasionally dip slightly below freezing. Combining this method with a black pan and the greenhouse method will likely increase the effectiveness.

If you don’t have electricity near your coop and need to water your flock in the winter, hopefully, some of the tips described here will make your life with chickens easier. Let us know in the comments below if you have any other methods for winter waterers without electricity and where you live so we can share your knowledge with our readers!

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